Matt Hasselbeck has a personal history at Mall of America Field (formerly the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome), one that even pre-dates his actual NFL career.
“My dad played there,” he said. “I remember playing there in the dome in fourth grade on the field. It was the coolest thing ever just to run around in the dome with good friends and brothers and play catch and get turf burns and all that stuff.”
It will be significantly more serious Sunday when he reclaims the job as starting quarterback — temporarily, at least — for the Tennessee Titans (1-3) and faces the Minnesota Vikings (3-1) there Sunday (3:25 p.m., CBS).
Coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday that Hasselbeck would start in place of Jake Locker, who sustained a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder for the second time in four games last Sunday at Houston. Munchak added that Rusty Smith would be Hasselbeck’s backup and that Locker, the starter for the first four games, would not be in uniform.
Not determination on Locker’s availability beyond this week has been made.
“It’s going to be a tough environment to play in, as we all know,” Munchak said. “I’m glad we have a quarterback … like Matt that we feel we can win with [and] have won with. He knows how big this game is for us.”
The Titans are winless in two trips to Minnesota during their time in Middle Tennessee and have been outscored a total of 62-27. As the Houston Oilers they won there just once in four tries, all but one of which took place in the dome. Only once was the margin of defeat fewer than 20 points.
Hasselbeck last won there as a starting quarterback on Dec. 12, 2004, with Seattle. He threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns that day.
“We have a lot of respect for Matt,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s been a great player in our league for a long, long time. Did a great job in Seattle. Extremely accurate. Doesn’t take a lot of sacks. Gets the ball out of his hands fast. He’s a good leader. We’ll have our hands full trying to contain him.”
Tennessee was 4-4 and never lost back-to-back games on the road last season when Hasselbeck was the starter.
With Locker this season, the Titans are 0-2 outside of LP Field.
They have been outscored 14-0 in the first quarter of the games at San Diego and Houston and converted just five of 21 (23.8 percent) third-down opportunities overall in those contests. Conversely, they scored 23 first-quarter points and led within the opening 15 minutes at home against New England and Detroit. Their third-down conversion rate in those games was 38.7 percent.
Locker was injured in the first quarter against the Texans.
“I certainly feel bad for Jake and his injury,” Hasselbeck said. “I’ve been there. I’ve had that injury and it’s no fun. Nothing’s fun. … Like I’ve said before, when somebody gets hurt somebody needs to step up. Your teammates and the rest of your team are counting on you to do the job.”
Being the starter certainly is nothing new to the 37-year-old, who has been exactly that in 147 of his 188 career appearances. Sunday’s setting is familiar to him as well.
“It’s obviously a great atmosphere and a place with a lot of history,” Hasselbeck said. “I threw my first touchdown pass there [in 1999] on a fake field goal and failed miserably on the end zone celebration — very very miserably. I fell on my face.”
That was a literal stumble. The Titans can’t afford for him to do the same, albeit in a figurative sense, this time.